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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, March 30, 2017

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, New Petitions, Continued Petitions


Continued Petitions

Youth Football (PE1319)

The Convener

Item 3 is continued petitions. The first is PE1319, on improving youth football in Scotland. Members will recall that we last considered this petition by Willie Smith and Scott Robertson at our meeting on 9 February. At the end of that meeting, we agreed to reflect at a future meeting on the recent evidence that we have heard, which we will do today.

As members are aware, on 20 March, the deputy convener and I informally met the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League. It may be helpful to provide feedback on that meeting before members discuss what further action we may wish to take. A note has also been circulated to members.

We appreciated the time that was given to us by Neil Doncaster from the SPFL and Andrew McKinlay from the SFA. We discussed a number of issues, including player registration and how that issue has been highlighted by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. We looked at the minimum wage issue. The view, particularly of the SPFL, is that that is a matter for the tax authorities; although the SPFL gives information and advice on people’s responsibilities, it does not consider that matter to be for it to deal with.

We raised the question of there having been few formal complaints. We suggested that a culture in which a person does not want to be seen to be difficult or as a troublemaker encourages people not to complain about such issues.

All the issues are overlaid with Scottish attitudes to football, particularly because it is seen as an opportunity to make a fantastic career for those who are good at it. We asked how the hours that a player works are calculated. We were interested in looking at what role the SFA and the SPFL could have in that regard.


The SFA and the SPFL also gave us an update on project brave, which is based on a performance strategy to develop their best players. One aspect of the initiative is a reduction in the number of players within the club academy Scotland system. There is a sense that a lot of young people are possibly being caught up in the academy system without there being any great likelihood that they will achieve success at the highest level.

We also discussed the children’s commissioner’s view that external regulation is necessary and the potential implications of that in relation to FIFA, as world football’s governing body. That is an issue that neither Angus MacDonald nor I had appreciated, so we have asked for more information on it. Apparently, if we move, as a country, to regulate football, FIFA will be concerned about that because it is a great believer in self-regulation—as we are all too aware from its past. There may be consequences for Scotland in that, so we have asked for more information.

We also discussed child protection. We know that the SFA and the SPFL have given evidence to the Health and Sport Committee on that matter and that it is being pursued. Also, we discussed who is covered by the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 in youth football, and the review that is being undertaken in the light of allegations of historical sexual abuse. They gave us an update on that and spoke about the question of intermediaries and agents, which the Health and Sport Committee is looking at. This committee is very alive to the fact that there is no regulation of adults who can have a lot of influence and a lot of control over young people’s destiny in football. In some evidence that we got, there was a suggestion that intermediaries and agents would not necessarily act in the interests of young people. I think that I am right in remembering that the children’s commissioner feels that young people under 16 should not have agents acting for them. Angus—are there any other issues that you want to flag up from the meeting?

Angus MacDonald

There are not, really. You have covered it well, convener. One salient point that was flagged up was the issue of Government interference. The SFA and the SPFL used the examples of Mali and Greece, which have been suspended from competing internationally because of Government interference. However, having looked privately at the reasons for those suspensions, I can say that there does not seem to be anything that relates to the issues that we are looking at here in Scotland. Fundamentally, a number of the issues here in Scotland are human rights issues, so the situations in Greece and Mali are not similar in any way. That is the only point that I want to add.

The Convener

That is very useful. Do members have suggestions on what we might do with the petition? It is worth noting that the committee has already agreed to seek time for a debate on the petition in the chamber. I think that that has been agreed by the Conveners Group—I should know, since I am on it. I think that we agreed to it but we do not have a date for it yet; it is in the system.

Brian Whittle

As you are aware, convener, I have quite strong views on the matter. First and last, there are considerations around child welfare. There are so many missed opportunities to look after the child—if that is the way to put it—that seem to be being brushed over.

We have heard evidence twice on this, and it has just highlighted to me that child welfare is not the first consideration of the SFA or the SPFL when it comes to how they conduct themselves. The convener mentioned that FIFA might not like it—that is excellent, given its track record. That other countries are not looking at the issue as they should is not a reason why we, as a country, should not step up.

I have listened to Gordon Strachan talking quite a few times about the academy structure and what is happening in the best interests of the child. I am sorry, Gordon, if I am landing you right in it.

He has nothing else to worry him just now.

Brian Whittle

I find it incredible that we are still having to discuss the issue. Having taken evidence in public from the SFA and the SPFL and having heard subsequent evidence from them in private, it seems to me that they have been skirting around the issue rather than answering the questions that we asked. I would like the opportunity to speak with them again.

Rona Mackay

I agree with Brian Whittle. I, too, would like to invite the SFA and the SPFL back to give evidence to the committee. What the convener told us about the meeting in private was interesting. I wonder whether, if we asked the SFA and the SPFL back to the committee, they would be able to elaborate in public on what they told you in private so that we could ask them questions to progress the matter a bit.

The Convener

It would be useful to invite them back. As I said at the beginning, we were very grateful to them for having that substantial meeting with us. We met for well over an hour and discussed an awful lot of issues, but it was certainly never intended as a substitute for the Public Petition Committee’s own role. We were quite clear about that.

I read in a briefing what the Professional Footballers Association Scotland has said previously about youth football, but it would be interesting to hear what PFA Scotland thinks about the petition. Perhaps we could get an update from it—in particular, on the implications of external regulation. I was quite surprised that we had not heard about that aspect previously and that, given how much the commissioner had said on it, no one had flagged up quickly that the SFA could get booted out of competitions because of external regulation.

Exactly. We could tease that out if the organisations come back to give evidence to the committee.

The Convener

The SFA and the SPFL suggested this, but it might be worth our while to seek opportunities to visit the academies. We could meet the young people there in private, if they were willing and able to do that, to get a sense of their views. There are quite a lot of positive things going on in the academies. My sense from the meeting was that the SFA and SPFL are reflecting on how effective the academies have been and how they could make them better.

I confirm that we will seek another opportunity to discuss issues with the SFA and the SPFL at a committee meeting and seek further comments from the petitioners and the PFA Scotland.

It might be sensible to write to the clubs, as the deliverers of the academies, for further information and their views.

I am not sure that the clubs would not just refer us to the SFA and the SPFL.

Do you think so?

Yes, I think that they would do that.

I, too, think that they would do that.

I do not think that the clubs would speak unilaterally to us.

It would be interesting to contact them, though.

Yes—because we might get half a dozen responses back.

There is nothing to stop clubs responding to us right now if they want to do that.

They know what the issues are.

The Convener

Maybe at this stage, however, we should look to the organisations that represent the clubs. Neil Doncaster was clear about the role of the SPFL in relation to the clubs and what their registration meant, which is possibly more limited than we had imagined.

I am interested to know what actions they think that the Public Petitions Committee could instigate that could get them kicked out of FIFA.

The Convener

It was interesting that they said that FIFA is very exercised by self-regulation. They said that they would give us evidence on that; it would be worth exploring that further.

I think that the committee is agreeing that we want further information because there are so many issues here. We will have a debate in the chamber on the subject of the petition and a further committee evidence-taking session that should certainly include the SFA and the SPFL, but we can consider what other witnesses would bolster that session.

Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, which calls for the introduction of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. When we last considered the petition, we agreed to seek further information from the Lord President and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Responses have been received from both and we also have submissions from the petitioner and a member of the public, Melanie Collins.

Members will recall that, when we wrote to the Lord President, we repeated our invitation to him to provide oral evidence, which he has now indicated that he would be willing to do. We express our gratitude for that.

Do members have any comments on further action to take on the petition?

I am glad that the Lord President has agreed to give evidence. That seems like what we should do next.

Angus MacDonald

I have followed this petition from day 1—I think that it was lodged in December 2012—and have deliberated on it for more than four years. It is encouraging and refreshing to note that the Lord President has offered to provide oral evidence to the committee, given the difficulties that we had with arranging for the previous Lord President to give evidence to us. We should take up Lord Carloway’s offer.

The Convener

We should also note that Alex Neil MSP has expressed an interest in speaking to this petition but is unable to be here today. It might be that he could attend the meeting with the Lord President. Angus MacDonald is right that this is a step forward.

Do we agree to invite the Lord President to give evidence at a future meeting, and see what comes out of that?

Members indicated agreement.

Residential Care (Severely Learning-disabled People) (PE1545)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1545, by Ann Maxwell, on behalf of the Muir Maxwell Trust, on residential care provision for the severely learning disabled. Members will recall that we last considered the petition at our meeting on 29 September 2016. At that meeting, we agreed to defer further consideration of it until March 2017.

Members will see from the clerk’s note that the Scottish Government has developed a project plan around issues that are identified in the petition, and that the first project under that plan, which involves the undertaking of a quantitative analysis, was due to be completed by the end of February this year. The project plan in its entirety is estimated to take two years.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Brian Whittle

I went to visit the Hansel Alliance in Symington in my region. It provides residential care for people with severe learning disabilities, and has done for as long as I can remember. I told people there that I remember when they used to mow the roof—they used to have a grass roof, and I have pictures of them mowing it. I had a tour to see what the staff do. As you can imagine, it is a fantastic facility. In line with the petitioner’s comments, the organisation is concerned about continuing funding.

I thank the petitioner for submitting the petition. I would be interested to find out where the Government is in relation to its project plan. I would like us to write to the Government to find out what progress has been made on that.

The Convener

From the briefing, it looks as though the Scottish Government has been doing quite a lot on this in terms of quantitative and qualitative work. Do we agree to write to the Scottish Government to ask about progress on the plan, and also to write to the petitioner on the same issue? The Government seems to have been quite engaged with the petitioner, which is to be welcomed.

Members indicated agreement.

Child Abuse (Mandatory Reporting) (PE1551)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1551, by Scott Pattinson, on mandatory reporting of child abuse. After our previous consideration of the petition, we wrote to the Scottish Government to seek an update on its engagement with the UK Government and to ask what steps it would take in the absence of any meaningful response or action from the UK Government.

At the time of its response, in February, the Scottish Government advised that there was still no clarity about when the UK Government might publish the findings from its consultation, other than to say that that is expected to happen in the first part of this year. The Scottish Government said that it would give careful consideration to the findings when they are published, but it did not give us much with regard to what steps it might take in the absence of movement on the issue at a UK level.

What are members’ thoughts about possible action to take on the petition?


Brian Whittle

I imagine that there is a lot of sympathy for the petition. I am concerned that neither the UK Government nor the Scottish Government is moving the issue forward. I am not sure what we do about that, but this is a petition on which we should see movement.

The Convener

My recollection from earlier discussions is that there is an argument to be had in either direction about the consequences of mandatory reporting. People working and involved in child protection certainly thought that there might be consequences.

I do not understand why, if the UK Government is not progressing matters, the Scottish Government does not take on the issue itself, because child protection falls within its remit and responsibilities. I am not sure why it is hooking its action on to UK Government action. Obviously, it must be concerned that there is no action at UK level, but I would have thought that we could contact the Scottish Government to ask why there is a delay in it acting. There are a whole series of issues on which we would be interested in hearing its response.

If we are waiting for the UK Government to respond, would the Scottish Government not input into that process? I simply ask that from a position of ignorance on the process.

I suppose that I have not got my head round why the Scottish Government is waiting for the UK-wide report.

We should write to seek clarification on the issue. Our paper highlights that the UK Government expects to publish its findings in the first part of 2017. We are well into that timeframe.

I think that the issue is non-contentious across the parties.

Yes, I would have thought so. We need to find out where the UK Government is on the issue and to seek clarity on why we in Scotland cannot strike out on our own.

The Convener

I am being advised by the clerk that the Scottish Government might be waiting for the UK Government’s report in order to avoid differentiated regimes in different parts of the United Kingdom. However, there are other issues that would be, by definition, differentiated, but people can move; they can travel. There could be consequences depending on whichever part of the UK they are in. The English inquiry into historic abuse is looking at survivors of abuse who were abused in Scotland. There are quite complicated issues.

On the specific issue of mandatory reporting, it must be possible that the Scottish Government is developing a view. We need to get clarification. Does it have a timescale? Is there a point beyond which it will say that it cannot wait any longer?

Do members agree to take the action that I have outlined?

Members indicated agreement.

Sound Sensitivity (PE1613)

The Convener

We move on to PE1613, which is on taking account of sound sensitivity in regulating antisocial behaviour and environmental health. The penultimate petition on our agenda today is from Craig Thomson. We first considered the petition in October 2016, when we agreed to seek written submissions from a number of organisations in response to the action that is called for. We have received a number of responses.

The responses consider the action that is called for in the overall framework of housing allocations and building standards. Although the responses recognised that there might be issues for individuals with particular sensitivities, there was no support for the action that is called for in the petition.

We were very grateful for the scale of the responses that we received from a variety of organisations, including local authorities, and the time that they had taken to respond. They clearly recognised the issue as one of some concern; they also expressed concern about the implications of implementing the proposals as suggested by the petitioner.

It is worth reflecting on the petitioner’s response. He said:

“I would like to thank all who have responded to and discussed my petition.

It is my hope that it generates awareness, compassion and help to those who find themselves in a similar situation through no fault of their own.

It is also my hope that it helps towards sowing the seeds of change towards a better, more humanistic and altruistic world.”

That was a gracious response, given that the respondents were saying that they were not sure that the petitioner’s solution was the right one. I agree with him that, even by raising awareness of the topic, he has performed an important role.

What are members’ suggestions on how we deal with the petition? My sense is that we have explored the issue and that although we recognise that the solution that the petition calls for cannot be implemented, an opportunity has been afforded to people to be clear about their awareness of the question.

Brian Whittle

It strikes me that there is no real recourse for somebody in this particular situation. We feel empathy for individuals in such situations, but I do not know how the suggested solution could possibly be implemented.

The Convener

My sense is that it would be down to the sensitivity of the housing organisations. They need to recognise that this is an issue and then maybe they can think about their allocations policy. If they recognise the challenge that the issue presents for individuals, they can be sympathetic in terms of individual decisions, which cannot really be determined at policy level.

I agree. I think that the petitioner’s response was very dignified, and we should commend him for that. We have taken the petition as far as we can, but I hope that we have raised awareness of the issue.

Maurice Corry

The submissions from the councils clearly indicate that they are aware of the issue and that they are doing something about it. Some are doing more than others. My own council suggested that one possibility might be to create a special room with more sound insulation, and I have worked on a case where that has been done. I know that the housing allocation officers take a lot of things into consideration. I think that there is not much more that we can do—it is really in councils’ hands.

The Convener

Okay. I suggest that we close the petition under rule 15.7 of standing orders on the basis that there is no support for the action that is called for in the petition. However, there is recognition that there are options open to individuals who might be more sensitive to noise on a case-by-case basis. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

I thank those who responded to the petition and the petitioner himself.

Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome (PE1625)

The Convener

We move on to the final petition, PE1625, which is on wider awareness, acceptance and recognition of pathological demand avoidance syndrome. It was lodged by Patricia Hewitt and Mary Black.

Following our previous consideration of the petition, we have received submissions from the Scottish Government, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Enquire, which is managed by Children in Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government. We also have a submission from the petitioners.

The petitioners are calling for PDA to be considered as a specific behaviour profile on the autism spectrum. The National Autistic Society’s submission says that PDA is becoming

“increasingly, but not universally, accepted as a behaviour profile”,

while the Enquire submission notes that calls to its helpline relate to concerns of parents that their children’s needs are not being identified and that there seem to be differences of opinion between the professionals involved.

The Scottish Government refers to the two major diagnostic classification systems that are currently in use, ICD-10 and DSM-5—“International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems”, 10th revision, and “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, fifth edition. Those classification systems are regarded as the gold standard for autism diagnosis and neither of them recognises PDA. Similarly, neither Scottish intercollegiate guidelines network—SIGN—guidelines nor National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—NICE—guidelines recognise PDA as a distinct category for diagnosis.

It appears that the principal reason for that is that a greater evidence base and understanding of the condition has identified that the behaviour within PDA falls within the diagnostic profile of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

It also appears that whatever term might be applied—be it ASD, PDA or something other than that—an individualised approach to support and treatment is the recommended best practice. It might also be worth noting that the ICD-10 classification is expected to be revised next year.

Do members have any views or suggestions for action to take on the petition?

Brian Whittle

I was struck by the inconsistency across councils, with one council providing a full range of support and the council next door sending the mother for parenting classes. There has to be a better structure than that. As the convener said, autism is a spectrum; you cannot pin it down. I would be inclined to ask whether there is a way to formalise things a bit better in terms of treatment across the country. For example, in one authority, your child could get support and, in another, you could be sent for parenting classes: those are wildly different approaches to the issue.

The Convener

The difficulty that we are wrestling with is that the clinicians or other professionals who do the diagnosis are not in agreement. There is a question about whether PDA is a condition on its own within the spectrum. I suppose the protection is that, regardless of whether the condition is recognised, all treatments and support should be directed to the individual. Some of that should be about listening to the carers or family members who look after the person with PDA. Their view was that they were getting solutions that created greater problems for the person for whom they were caring, and the thrust of the evidence was that they wanted to be offered support that would help.

That is right.

I do not know whether it would be possible, but I would like to hear from professionals on both sides of that argument.

The Convener

My issue is that, even with the wisdom of Solomon, if we heard both sides of that argument, we would not be able to judge between clinicians. What the petitioners are wrestling with is that there is no across-the-board recognition of the condition by experts in the field and that the condition, which they strongly identify, is not acknowledged.

We have two choices. Given what the Scottish Government has said, we can close the petition, or—in line with what Brian Whittle suggested—we can write to COSLA to get an overview of whether PDA is recognised among local authorities and, if they do recognise it, of how they support it. That might give us a sense of the division.

I am for going down that route because, as Brian said, there are inconsistencies among local authorities and it would help us to understand a bit more about it.

Just for clarification, convener, have we already written to COSLA but not received a response?

We have.

Angus MacDonald

That is disappointing, because we had difficulties with COSLA not responding quickly, or at all, in the previous parliamentary session. I hope that we are not going down that route again. I would be keen to hear COSLA’s view on whether PDA is recognised among local authorities.

Maurice Corry

It might also be worth while talking to the health boards, as that would tie in the clinician side. We should remember that we now have half ownership by the NHS of whichever region and the local authority, so we need to include a view from them.

The Convener

Technically, there is no purdah period, but we are moving towards the local government elections and the reconstitution of COSLA, so it might be a long-term process for COSLA to gather together the evidence on such an issue, which is very specific and probably not on the radar of everybody in local authorities. It would be worth contacting health boards, as Maurice Corry said.

I agree. As so much is being delivered through IJBs, that supersedes what the local authorities are doing. Social services come under the IJBs.

The Convener

Perhaps the reality is that, because PDA is not a universally acknowledged condition, it would not come across the radar of some of those bodies. If our work is partly about raising awareness, that would serve as being helpful.

We can write to COSLA and clarify the timescale within which it can reasonably respond, as we recognise the challenges involved. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

That was our final agenda item to be discussed in public, so I close the public part of the meeting.

10:44 Meeting continued in private until 11:12.